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Older women who just won’t quit

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Posted: 7 am ET

After Elizabeth Fiedler lost her job as an academic researcher and she couldn't find another -- it's tough to land a job when you're in your 60s -- she was frustrated. "I didn't want to retire. I felt like I was being put on the shelf prematurely," she said.

She began focusing her research skills -- honed at Harvard where she earned a doctorate in education -- on how other working women her age were coping with retirement planning, and how many of them were choosing to keep working.

She launched what's known as a "snowball" survey, sending a list of questions to all the women she knew who were older than 65 and still on the job, asking them to not only take the survey, but also send it along to other people who fit the profile. Ultimately, she got 155 responses. She did in-depth interviews with 34 of those. The result is a book, "Women Still at Work: Professionals Over 60 and on the Job."

The book examines what keeps older women on the job. Their reasons are mostly not economic. "My research wasn't intended to overlook the many people who must continue working because they need to make ends meet," Fiedler says. "But the segment of the population on which I concentrated is all highly educated and in professions that don't require physical labor. Most of them were in the position to be able to continue working only if they wanted to," she says.

Many women she interviewed told her they got a late start. Like Fiedler, who this month celebrates her 50th wedding anniversary, they married, had children and stayed home to raise them. They didn't enter the workforce until their children were nearly grown. "They worked so damn hard to get where they've gotten that they aren't going to quit now," she says. "They are good at what they do. They are at the peak of their careers, and they aren't going to stop."

In some fields there is an age ceiling, but that is changing. Fiedler points to the situation in New York state where Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, a Democrat from Brooklyn, has sponsored a bill to allow judges to keep working past the mandatory retirement ages of either 70 or 76, depending on the court. The bill requires a voter referendum to change the state constitution, and many think it will pass because people of all ages recognize that good judges are hard to find.

Some women she interviewed got around the expectation of retirement by becoming self employed. "Women in their 60s and 70s who go into business for themselves have flexibility, and that satisfies a lot of the older women," Fiedler says.

The thing all of them have in common is reasonably good health. "You need to  have your health. You have to have the stamina to do the work," Fiedler says.

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Sue McDonald
July 23, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Well I'm 67 and I work because I have to!!!

Florida Grandma
July 15, 2013 at 8:01 pm

As a "woman of a certain age" myself, and still working, I send kudos to those women who choose to continue working long after they COULD have "retired".

I would however, add one precautionary note; If you are working at job and ASKING less than what the job is worth, or what a younger person, of whatever gender, might be within reason to ask for, you are doing a grave injustice to people who HAVE to work for a living.

In an employer's market, with so many young parents and singles unemployed you should look at what you are doing and what it is worth. If you are accepting less just to keep working for personal satisfaction, and a younger person might really need that job to provide for their family, DON'T DO IT! Ask the going wage and compete on an even scale.

You have wisdom, experience, better judgement and no missing work due to small children getting measles on your side. They have youth, energy and a better grasp of the new technology. Both are needed so it will depend on which the employer need more, NOT on the fact that you are willing to work for pennies on the dollar and they CAN'T afford to.

So don't sell our young people short just to entertain yourself, have something to get up for or make a point. Ask a fair wage for a fair job. Thank you!

July 10, 2013 at 1:15 pm

My fingers hurt...Im a grandmom and Im quite the quilter

Mary Carolin
June 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm

I opened a Gift Shop at age 63 after being laid off and unable to find work. I am happy, successful and employ 9 other women who are " retired " but want to work part time. Age, it's just a number!!! I donot plan to retire. Ever.